Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Deputy Commissioner Tom Clark Discusses the Present and Future of the PBA, Part 1

Many have criticized the PBA mercilessly over the past few years for everything from its comparatively meager prize funds and diminishing tour stops to ESPN announcer Rob Stone's sacrilegious "hambones" to recent telecasts featuring blaring rock bands, cheerleaders, smack-talking Dicks, and bleating vuvuzelas.

Critics complain that the PBA is demeaning professional bowling and selling out its base supporters who deeply love and respect the sport by resorting to crude marketing gimmicks to grab hold of younger, uninitiated fans with gnat-like attention spans, iPhones, Facebook, and a zillion-and-one increasingly gaudy, glitzy, and energetic entertainment alternatives vying for their attention and their dollars.

These complaints are especially prevalent in the PBA Forums of the PBA website. So, it's not surprising that Tom Clark, the Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of the PBA, recently chose that very forum to meet his harshest critics head on. Challenging questions and thoughtful suggestions were submitted to him, and he responded with trademark forthrightness and wit.

Over the next few days, this blog will present and consider some of the highlights of Mr. Clark's responses and invite your comments.

Some Season Highlights

Yesterday, I quoted Mr. Clark's overview of the challenges the PBA and its players face in today's market and of the misperceptions he thinks a lot of the PBA's most vociferous critics have of the organization's struggles. These words followed a litany of what Mr Clark considers to have been some of the highlights of the 2010-2011 season. Some of the highlights he listed were:

~ The first PBA telecast on ABC-TV in 14 years and Nelson Burton Jr's participation in that telecast.

~ The TOC boasting the largest prize fund "in bowling history."

~ Extended live television coverage of some of the majors.

~ Chris Barnes accomplishing an extremely rare Triple Crown victory with a dramatic strike in the 10th frame of the WSOB.

~ An unsung competitor from Korea winning a title by beating his Korean opponent in the final match of the PBA Scorpion Championship.

~ Bill O'Neill's masterful domination of "a WSOB qualifying marathon across five patterns and 60 games in one of the most demanding tests of bowling ever."

~ Widespread media coverage of Mika Koivuniemi's 299-100 victory over Tom Daugherty in the TOC.

~ Unprecedented live match play round coverage of a major.

~ The first "all-two handed match in PBA TV history."

~ Mark Roth throwing the ceremonial first ball of the Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship.

~ Former Miss USA Kimberly Pressler "working the sidelines" of a televised event.

~ Jason Couch and Parker Bohn reviving the past by meeting in the final match of a plastic ball tournament.

~ Mika Koivuniemi making the finals of all four televised majors.

~ Howard Stern talking on his radio show about the PBA for a month.

~ The Chris Paul PBA Celebrity Invitational making the PBA "look cool played by the coolest people on the planet."

~ Norm Duke's "stone 8-pin" followed by Mika Koivuniemi's 10-pin miss to hand Duke the U.S. Open title.

Clark Criticizes Misreporting

Mr. Clark believes that the highlights he lists demonstrate that the 2010-2011 PBA season was a "super year." But he laments that the critics flooding the PBA message boards and other forums with unreasonable complaints and misinformation obscure this.

For instance, he tells of how he once joked on Facebook that the three "cheerleaders" working the crowd during the final telecast of the season were paid $7,000 (they were actually paid $50) each out of the "PBA player buffet budget," and a bowling webcast host who should have known better reported Mr. Clark's "facetious comments" as fact. This same host reported numerous other falsehoods as fact over the course of the season. Clark says:
"I share that story with you because it is just one small example of the type of incorrect information that somehow becomes accepted as “truth” or fact because of the lack of a filter on the burgeoning new social media on the internet. Unprofessional, unqualified, uninformed, often bitter, often frustrated, agenda-driven people suddenly have a voice, often an anonymous one like on this board, and too many spread lies, rumor and paint inaccurate portrayals that somehow shape public opinion and somehow in today’s world that is OK. It’s really sad, it’s unfortunate that it happens on serious issues that shape our lives and even here on this relatively trivial message board almost every single day."
Mr. Clark also writes about how commenters on Facebook's PBA page were criticizing the PBA for allegedly paying only 16 of 250 spots in the WSOB when, in fact, it had a "better than 1:3 payout ratio," and about how other commenters insisted that the "exempt tour model was keeping people from their dreams (when the reality is most events were open last year, none were completely closed, and some of the most compelling stories of the year came from players who were not exempt at the start of the season)."

Mr. Clark concludes the opening part of his response with the following:
"I understand the frustration people in and around bowling have. But they shouldn’t have to make things up or wildly exaggerate to make a point...Thankfully, for every negative person there are many positive voices being heard because of the new media, and greater opportunities for people to share them so I suppose it all works out in the end...I personally appreciate the passion most of you here have for this sport. But pro bowling needs your help, not your venom. Please redirect that passion by demanding the media give coverage and respect to our sport, by thanking sponsors with your letters and financial support, by making sure your local center promotes the pro game, by supporting the professionals you admire on the lanes. Don’t get me wrong, criticism is great. Complaining and pointing out what you don’t like or think is wrong is great. As long as it is based on reality. Merely proclaiming bowling is dead or rooting for the PBA’s demise, and dishing negative facts without any confirmation or characterizing things as “atrocious” and the like while not doing anything positive is just really lame and really you should just go away. But wow, I’ve beaten that point to death."
I agree with Mr. Clark that people should check their facts before criticizing the PBA for things it hasn't even done and that they should keep in mind the tremendous challenges the PBA faces in making its product appealing to sufficient numbers of fans and sponsors and do everything they can to support the PBA in its herculean efforts to live long and prosper. On the other hand, I hope that the powers-that-be in the PBA don't defensively dismiss legitimate criticisms and suggestions that the PBA's most ardent fans serve up in the PBA Forums and social media. If we all work together, perhaps the PBA can survive and even thrive.

What's Next?

In my next post, I'll start addressing Mr. Clark's responses to the questions and suggestions that were put to him, beginning with Why the vuvuzelas?

If you wish, you can jump ahead of me and read the whole discussion here after, if need be, registering.

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